A strange thing happens when Amy Herzog addresses a crowd. A feeling of optimism and confidence permeates the room, a sense of "at last!" and "so it wasn't me after all." Women sit up in their chairs. More amazingly, they shed their inhibitions and become perfectly willing to study the shape of their bodies and have their measurements taken. In front of other people.
In any other context, this would be unimaginable. But Amy Herzog has a way of putting people instantly at ease, reassuring them that it's not their fault. It's their clothes.
I was lucky enough to watch this first-hand at last year's Knitter's Review Retreat. On Saturday night, she brought out all her samples and gave us a condensed peek into her Fit to Flatter workshops and her much-anticipated book, Knit to Flatter.
That book has finally hit the shelves, and the response is electric. The book launch took place last weekend, and Masonic Hall of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was packed. Women lined up around the perimeter of the hall, waiting their turn with the measuring tape. They pounced on her samples, trying on one, then another, running to a nearby full-length mirror to see Herzog's theories in action. Nearby, Herzog occasionally provided a nod or some guidance.
It was clear people felt safe. More to the point, they felt excited. For some, this was the first time they had tried on a handknitted sweater that looked good on them—not just good, but really good, as if it'd been designed just for their bodies.
Why This Matters
It's an interesting thought. To knit from patterns is to shop from a mail-order catalog. We see the garment on another person's body—usually a slender, graceful model in an ideal setting, photostyled and photoshopped to perfection.
We admire the yarn, the technique, the pattern construction. We check the measurements and match it to ours, usually just using chest circumference as our guide. We spend weeks, months sometimes, knitting this garment. We take care to finish it just so.
Then we put it on, look at ourselves in the mirror, and feel that odd combination of pride, accomplishment, and vague disappointment. It's not exactly perfect, but look at those cables! See how even the colorwork is? Don't you love how the collar was designed?
Why This Book
We have books about creating garments perfectly suited for our body. They're excellent books. But for some knitters, they're too technical, too daunting. "I'm not ready to design my own project from scratch," they say, veering away from this opportunity and back to the readymade designs.
Herzog takes a different approach. For her, it's all about balance. Most of us are so focused on size that we forget to think about our shape. Herzog's work involves helping people see their shape, and then pick styles that balance out that shape. Almost mathematical in simplicity.
She begins by talking about bodies in terms of their silhouette. Take a closer look at your outline. Are you top-heavy? Bottom-heavy? Proportional? Those are the three basic silhouettes around which the book is based.
From here, she shows how to take your own measurements. This isn't just a "measure your chest" quickie, she delves into the relationship between bust, waist, hip, under torso, neckline depth, sleeve length, bicep, wrists, and hips. The good news? You only need to do this once. There's a handy worksheet for noting your numbers.
Then Herzog returns to those three basic silhouettes, but this time she's equipped with patterns. Most of the sweaters were designed by Herzog, with some help from contributing designers Elinor Brown and Caro Sheridan. Kirsten Capur rounds out the collection with a knitted skirt.
These aren't just gratuitous patterns tossed in to balance out the book. They don't scream "look at how amazing a designer I am!" at the expense of actual wearability. Simply put, they are gorgeous, classic, stylish sweaters designed to make the wearer feel really, really good about herself.
Every pattern has intentional design elements that Herzog calls out in the beginning—a textured collar to broaden the shoulders, cable panels to provide vertical lines to slim the torso, and so on. Garments are modeled by beautiful women of all shapes, and each picture also notes what size the model is wearing and how much positive ease there is in the upper torso.
Each silhouette has four sweater patterns (in one case, a sweater is swapped for Kirsten's skirt), followed by six additional sweater patterns that can be modified to flatter any shape.
Herzog provides a generous ten sizes for each sweater, sized for torsos ranging from 28-29 to 53-54-inches. The numbers vary slightly from pattern to pattern. She gives even more instructions on how to modify these patterns if your shape falls beyond that range.
Men who knit, take note. The principles behind this book apply to any human body, regardless of gender. But the book itself, in design and voice and garments, is aimed squarely at women.
The Power of the Positive
As pretty as the photographs are, and as happy as the models look in the pictures, these garments are even more beautiful in person. Or perhaps it's the women who animate them, normal people just like you and me.
I've watched as women picked a style of sweater they always wear. Then I've watched Amy. Hands folded, head tilted just so, eyes studying the situation and without a touch of judgment in her voice, she'll ask if the woman has tried the such-and-such sweater. She explains why. The woman takes off the offending sweater, tries on the recommended one, looks in the mirror, and immediately blooms. "I never would've tried this on," she says. I watched this at the KR Retreat, and I watched it at Amy's launch. Women leave excited and inspired. They cannot wait to find the right yarn so they can cast on.
Such self-assuredness is a gift we all were born with and deserve to feel on a daily basis. You wouldn't think we needed a book like this, but we do. We're lucky it's here.